Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Fathering Instinct: Praying Mantids

One of the most underrated aspects of young males is the fathering instinct, similar and in no ways lesser than the more well known mothering instinct. Never is this irresistible urge more evident than in our owning of pets. Pets of any size often act as the training wheels for future human babies, teaching the owner(yes, you own your baby) the requisite skills of dedication, training, teaching, and most importantly, spoiling.

Why am I writing this, some may wonder. Isn't it obvious? I have training wheels of my own now: 1 inch, spineless, bloodthirsty pseudo-babies. The apples of my eye, las niñas de mis ojos, my four praying mantids.

This is what you need to be imagining now.

How did they come into my life? Well, as it should be, they came to me the way I came into this world - with the assistance of my father. He brought an egg sac with him to the beach a few weeks ago, an egg sac that had just let loose dozens of baby mantids. He had to bring them to the beach so they would not die - he needed to keep them alive for his biology students.

Egg sac.

I felt a burning desire deep within me when I first saw the multitude of infants in the white cage. I wanted nothing else but to take care of them, to feed them, watch them grow, and to brag about them to everyone. So, never being one to disobey my urges, I got permission from Father to take four of them with me back to Carrboro.

As soon as I got home I went out and bought a delux cage for them... NOT. I cut open a juice bottle and stuck them in there. I tossed in the handful of fruit flies that Father pawned off on me, and I let them be for the night.

Normally the first thing I do when I wake up is walk into the shower with my eyes closed. I then brush my teeth in the shower with my eyes still closed, and perhaps by the end I will open them. However, the first morning with my mantids I did not do this. Instead I lurched out of bed(earplugs still in) and leapt over to my desk to take ahold of the juice bottle and raised it to the light. Peering through the plastic, time stood still.

Since that fateful morning, my life has changed. No longer am I living for myself. No longer is my life the only life that depends on me. I've got 5 lives to take care of. Since then I have upgraded their accomodations. I have traps set outside for fruit flies. I take them on long drives in the Jetta - windows down, lid cracked. If we go through the drive-thru at Wendy's, I stop at a patch of clover to snag them some flies as well.

In the words of the Spice Girls, 5 have become 1. I will now give you a quick tour of our lives together:

This is their new palace. It is a converted fish tank with all the amenities: a rotten piece of apple for the flies, a piece of our kitchen sponge, and of course, ornamental seaweed.

Another angle.

So the next aspect of this tour that needs to be addressed concerns their food. I feel the need to have food constantly available to them, otherwise I start to get stressed out. What if they are hungry and can't tell me? There is no real simple way to keep a constant stream of snacks flowing into this container, but I am doing the best I can. Here is what I do:

First I bust up some fruit and stick it in a yogurt container. Then I set it out in my front yard and leave it to simmer. After a few hours I return and put a top on it, trapping fruit flies inside. But how to get the flies from there into the mantis' cage? Here is where I get a bit ridiculous.

In case this picture hasn't explained the process to you, I'll explain it a bit further. I take the yogurt container into my bathroom, close the door, and release the flies. Now I have them in a contained space with minimal obstacles between me and them. Most of them go straight for the shower walls or window, easy spots to catch them. Next, I use the pictured vial to catch them one by one and tap it quickly into the terrarium. Usually it's about 10 flies per batch and it takes about 5 minutes. Yes, that might sound a bit arduous, but I enjoy it.

The rest of the day I let them be. I want them to be independent, I want them to learn how to hunt by themselves.

I know that there will come a day when this won't work anymore. These mantids are Chinese Mantids, which, ironically, means that they are the largest species around. Soon they will look like this:

Their childhood will end. They will enter adolescence and they will soon be able to draw blood when they strike me, but I promise, no matter what they say or do, I will keep working for them. If they are lucky and don't lose any legs while molting and die, one day they will be adults with families of their own(unless they are boys, then their wives will eat them). But either way, when that day comes, let us pray that I will be willing to let them go. And I think I will be willing, as long as they don't move out of the yard and keep their cell phone on.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Stanky Leg Gets the Job Done

The past two weeks have been pretty much workless. I said sayonara to Trader Joe’s on national championship Monday… and I have been out of commission in the substituting world the past two weeks due to Spring Break and illness. But this all came to an end this past Monday, as I entered the work week with a ferocity, eager to get back in the classroom and continue recruiting folks for the revolution.

My assignment for Monday was Math, Math, and more Math. All 7th grade, all classes being Pre-Algebra except for one Algebra class. All the classes are prepping for the EOG(End of Grade) exams coming up. I got to inflict great pain on all the students by passing out a massive booklet for them to take practice tests in. It was quite enjoyable to take the tests myself, and to be a resource for the students when they needed help.

Can you answer this question?

Ralph's favorite number is very special. The prime factors of this number do not repeat and are all the odd prime numbers less than 15. What is Ralph's number? a. 105, b. 1155, c. 15,015, d., 135135

Well if you can, congratulations. I couldn't until I got a 4 foot 5 kid to explain it to me. I had forgotten all about factoring trees.

So enough talking about Math, let's talk about the more exciting/traumatizing things that happened during the day, none of which have to do with Math.

First of all, the reverie of my first planning period was interrupted by a French class occurring in my classroom, so I slipped out and headed to the teachers' lounge. There I sat on a gigantic couch, read Heart of Darkness, and ate 5 donuts. I also got to scrutinize everyone that filtered through to scout out the donuts(donated by some mother.) Every male teacher that came in grunted in exultation and grabbed several to take with them. The female teachers would do a couple circuits through the lounge downplaying their desire, until eventually they gently slipped one donut out of the box, back facing me. They would then walk quickly out with their eyes downcast, desire quenched. It's fun to watch how men and women who want the same thing approach it differently... women just aren't allowed to have as much fun!

However, the most exciting moment for me occurred in 5th period Pre-Algebra. Everything was going according to plan: I was sitting at my desk reading my book, eavesdropping on students, and defining the word "correlation" at least 10 times. All that changed when I overheard a heated conversation about Stanky Leg. One girl was bragging about her ability to do Soulja Boy's new dance, the Stanky Leg, and all this had caused a general discussion about who knew the dance the best, and how lame everyone who wasn't familiar with it was. Being the poor Mr. K that I am, I couldn't help watching this whole situation like a glorious train wreck... I thought I was watching it anonymously until the girl student and I made eye contact. Then this sequence happened:

"Mr. K, do you know Stanky Leg??"

"Yes... Of course!"

"Do it!! C'mon!!" Everyone in the class is now on their feet, begging and shouting for it.

"Everyone be quiet."

"Do it!!"

"Ok.... pause... Here's the deal. I'll do Stanky Leg at the end of class, on two conditions. First, stop screaming and everyone sit down(they do it). Second, you have got to keep working on your math, and if everyone stays in their seat and does their work, I'll do Stanky Leg."

So. The deal had been made. They continued their work for the final 15 minutes of class, and then the bell rang. I thought I was off the hook until I was completely called out by the girl. I had no choice. I proceeded to Stanky Leg by my desk to the general uproar of the entire class.

More satisfying than my moves was one kid who yelled above it all, "Dang Mr. K, you can Stanky Leg better than her!!!" Who knew!

Here is Soulja Boy doing Stanky Leg:

The rush of having done Stanky Leg for my class carried me through the next period. I had sworn them all to keep it on the down-low, but as I walked through the hallways for the rest of the day, all I heard was "Hey! I heard you danced for your class!" "Mr. K, show me Stanky Leg!!" My response to all this was, "Say what?"

Nothing too great happened during the day, though I did hear some ridiculous things said by the kids. Here are some of the greatest quotes of the day:

Said by a girl in a proud, matter of fact voice:
"I'm black that's why I eat chicken!"

Said by a 4 foot 7th grader: "If I injure my ankle, then I can't date Angelina Jolie!"

Said by a boy to another boy in the midst of a game of truth or dare, about 3 feet from my desk: "I dare you to pretend being in love with Adam!"

Said wisely by the same boy as above, giving advice to his friend that is in trouble for cheating on his girlfriend: "You can't really cheat in middle school."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Crisis in the Great Plains: Animals Have the Answer

When Europeans first crossed our continent, the Great Plains were known as the “Great American Desert,” nothing but an obstacle in their way to the Pacific Ocean. But, after the Pacific coast was fully saturated with settlers, they returned to the vast midsection of the country, this time with intent of staying.

The Europeans weren’t, however, the first agriculturalists to attempt a living there. A thousand years before, Indians left their forest margins to attempt growing their cold resistant maize and beans. By the 15th century, it appears that drought forced the Indians to forgo their enterprise. Barely a century later, the appearance of the horse into American culture made a buffalo-hunting existence a more profitable one for the Indians, leaving the plains fallow until the arrival of the European sod-busters.

The Great Plains

Today, inhabitants of this tough country are still experiencing its harsh realities. The land is simply too poor to provide a financial base for the richness and complexity of contemporary North American culture.

Currently, people in this region are surviving at a lower population density than the Indians a century and a half ago. Unless there is a dramatic change soon, agriculture will continue decline in large areas of the west. The relationship between North Americans and their land must change if sustainability is to be achieved.

What is the solution? A complete makeover of the region is needed, a comprehensive solution to a crisis 13,000 years in the making.

The ideal option is also the most romantic one. The region should be left to the buffalo and other previously dominant animals, which will in turn provide subsistence for a hunter-gatherer sort of enterprise, not dissimilar to the one that existed two centuries ago.

This plan would also provide a solution for other grave problems occurring in the rangelands. Perhaps the biggest controversy in parkland management recently has come down to elk population control, due mainly to their tremendously negative effect on trees and bushes. Recently, burgeoning elk numbers have been the cause of a great decline in flora diversity in the west.

Though it may look pristine, elk are wreaking havoc throughout the west.

The two most well known remedies for this crisis are proving inadequate. They are: to manage the land in order to maintain it as it was when the Indians lived on it, or to leave it alone – to treat it as a “wilderness,” in hope that it will revert to some sort of ecological balance. It is now obvious that neither of these will work. There will be no ecological balance with the current set of wildlife.

The problem with elk is quite simple - they lack the appropriate predators. Although wolves have been reintroduced and cougar persist, there is still a void of ambush predators such as jaguar and lion, a role that was temporarily filled by Indians. These once native ambush predators would provide protection for the berry producing bushes and trees that the elk threaten, for any areas that would provide cover for these large felines would be avoided by browsers.

It may seem extreme to us, but sights like this are not foreign to our land. In fact they have been the norm up until very recently.

Another problem that would be solved by the restoration of North America’s fauna would be the issue of fire. Although fire is a natural part of regeneration, too much fire is not a natural thing. Fire behaves like mega-herbivores do, consuming dry and coarse vegetation that the smaller vegetarians cannot consume. If large herbivores were to return, the problem of excessive wildfires would disappear.

Smoky the Bear? No, it's Smoky the Elephant.

The debate comes down to whether the Great Plains and parklands of the west are suitable for the re-arrival of elephant, camel, llama, panther and lion. I believe they are. These animals could provide the nucleus for a smaller, yet sustainable economy, providing ecologically inexpensive meat and hides to a new and finally adapted people.

Canadian Bison... I could do that.

Some claim that such an experiment is too novel to be tested on such a grand scale. But it has already been demonstrated in the Sonoran Desert, where a diverse group of introduced grazers and browsers have produced higher yields to ranchers than cattle alone. Also, with the exception of humans, new large mammal immigrants have never caused extinctions of the original fauna. Finally, any species that we would consider introducing are close relatives of species that already existed here just 13 millennia ago. That is such a short period of time, certainly too short of a time for any new species to evolve that would exclude these previous species.

So what if all this was to happen? The economy of the Great Plains would be completely revitalized. They would have a native and sustainable meat industry along with selective agriculture. Second we would have a harmonious ecosystem around us, where many problems of the day would be solved by simple coexistence, where the so called "balance" of nature once again could rule supreme. Money made from tourism to this region would rival any spectacle in the entire world, money made on the beauty of the Earth, not the exploitation of it.

One of the most striking aspects of the North American people is their ability to reinvent themselves. What we need now is the ability to imagine the reinvention. This region of America is in need of a new dream. No longer will it be a place of destitution. No longer will we have to travel to Africa to see a wildlife spectacle. We have the proof in our own history that this dream can be a reality, a reality of new prosperity, new pride, new harmony.

Many of these ideas were supplemented by the terrific book, The Eternal Frontier: An Ecological History of North America and its Peoples by Tim Flannery.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


This game, a quaking presence in my life for many years, must now be shared with all.

Ingredients: 4+ people. sheets of paper. writing utensils.

What you do is this:

Each person has a piece of paper. You write a sentence on the top of the page, a sentence that is going to become the first line of a story. You then pass your paper to the person on your right. You will now be holding a piece of paper with one sentence on it. Add a continuing sentence to your liking, and then fold the paper so the person you pass the paper to will only be able to see the most recent sentence(the one you wrote).

You continue this cycle until all the pages are filled up. Suddenly you have a group of hilariously blind, dream-like stories. The plot, characters, and worlds within each story ebb and flow as simply as the ocean.

This past weekend I played with my uncle, aunt, mother, father, sister and her boyfriend. Fueled by the insanity of lives, our production was one of a kind. Now take a look at 4 of our productions:

Bud or Bud Light? Travis couldn't decide.
One was his favorite but the other tempted the devil in his loin.
In the darkness he selected the evil one, so he pried off the nails and laced up his shoes.
He knew it was going to be a long night, so he filled his fanny pack with granola bars, batteries, and other things he might need.
On his way to the bus station his attention was diverted by the cabbie's rude but puzzling remark.
Did he know him from somewhere? Had they met before?
They locked eyes and then embraced as if they were long lost lovers.
In fact they were long lost lovers, reincarnated from their past as neighboring toadstools.
Sex as fungi was so unfulfilling, now as sentient beings with feelings and desires, their needs could ultimately be realized.
"Let's never go back to being mushrooms," they agreed happily.

At last! The crust was perfect and the guests were about to arrive.
Eagerly wanting to test his new confection on his friends, he lathered the haunches.
"C'mon, just try one bite!" he pleaded to them.
I admit the color is not appetizing, but the flavors! - You'll be impressed, I promise.
Feeling adventurous, Rhonda sniffed the peculiar looking blob and then chomped down on it.
A surge of memories filled her, of Tijuana on Christmas and jailbait through the windows; it was so damn delicious!
So she said "Yes! - bring it on big fella!"
Stan obliged in a way that caused them both to swear off such behavior hence forth.

Jameson felt violated.
He wasn't sure why Roger had just yelled at him!
It didn't matter, Roger was going down!
Drawing on his courage he slowly inched his way down into the well.
Thoughts of Janice filled his mind as he reached the bottom and started lapping up the contents.
But it just wasn't the same - a bowl of pudding couldn't fill the space she had left in his heart.
So he left town at sunset for spring break at Fort Lauderdale.
He took all the accoutrement he would need to ramp up his misbehavior, to max out on faux pas.
The first thing he did was go to a bar to hit on ladies inappropriately.

The books fell on the floor, the furniture rattled, and sirens rang as the tremor reached its climax.
Maude was relieved to be outside where nothing could fall on her.
Then, out of nowhere, a bird deposited its breakfast right on her shoulder.
Soiled, dejected, and confused, she asked a stranger for a cloth of any type.
A man with an anvil handed her his rinsing rag.
She didn't want to be impolite, but it looked too gross to use, "Um, thanks..." she said uncertainly.
Drawing on all her reserves, she blew her nose on the least soiled corner, then passed it on.
It began as a simple cold, but quickly progressed into a citywide epidemic.
That his lean chicken stock could be the cause pushed him into delerium.
The guilt and shame gave him no rest either day or night.
So he wasted into a frail tender.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Pickle Dealer from Seville

“In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

Yeah, so what, we've known this forever.

Why, if Christopher Columbus was the first to “discover” the New World, are the continents not named after him? Why do we not live in the United States of Columbia? Why are they named after Amerigo Vespucci instead?

This question, a question we undoubtedly ask ourselves every day, must be answered. And as we begin to answer it we will fall into the deepest of all dramas, full of slander and giant rats. Take my hand and come with me, as we purge our mysteries and embrace the truth that evades us all.

By the late 1400's, the European urge to set sail for new lands was overwhelming, we know this. The auburn eyes of Italians were set on the West, where, unknown to them, lay the vast, untapped wilderness of the New World. And yes, Italians had power back then and could accomplish things. And yes, Columbus was the first to make the voyage, and was the first to bring the concept of a New World to European awareness. But we aren't here to talk about that. We're here to talk about the drama.

Christopher Columbus. Oooh so intimidating! Yeah, I do not want this guy to be my namesake. What a bland boy.

Amerigo Vespucci. Should you mess with this man? No. Should you mess with the New World? No.

Vespucci's role in the whole naming controversy is unclear. The landmass named America first appeared on a map drawn by German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller in 1507. Waldseemüller may have been mislead by the Soderini Letter, which is now thought to be a forgery. This letter reports that the New World was populated by giants, cannibals, and sexually insatiable females, while also implying that it was first discovered by Vespucci. We all know none of those exist in America. Get real!

Waldseemüller's 1507 map that first showed the name America. He used Crayola.

Some have suggested that Vespucci, in the two letters published in his lifetime, was exaggerating his role and constructed deliberate fabrications. The belief of this exaggeration can be seen in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson the famous American transcendentalist, as he called Vespucci: “the pickle dealer at Seville… who managed in this lying world to supplant Columbus and baptize half the earth with his own dishonest name."

However, Emerson was out of line! Many scholars now believe that the two letters were not written by Vespucci but were fabrications by others based in part on genuine letters by Vespucci.

Christopher Columbus himself died in 1506, and was unable to dispute the naming. He also believed until his end that he had discovered and colonized a part of Asia. Vespucci, however, knew otherwise. Vespucci was the first man to knowingly show that the Americas were not connected with Asia and were, in fact, a new and separate continent.

But here comes the real rub. The real stickler. I'm not one to blindly take the word of "scholars." I suggest that you don't either. I need more information. Something hard. And furry.

Yessss. Modern science has come to Amerigo's rescue! Some of the dispute surrounding Vespucci's discoveries can finally be wiped away. In one of his several letters, he claims discovery of a new tropical coastline. In this letter he describes an island filled with giant rats. This may seem like an idle detail when compared to the discovery of an entire continent, but in fact this one furry beast of a detail corroborates his namesake and cements a part of his legacy. For the truth is that there is only one place that this could have been: the northeast coast of South America.

Vespucci's Rodent (Noronhomys vespuccii) is an extinct rodent discovered on Ilha Fernando de Noronha, a small volcanic island off the coast of Brazil. It is known that the species was alive in 1503, but it is unknown at what point the species became extinct.

The species is now named after Amerigo Vespucci, who landed on Ilha Fernando de Noronha on the 10th of August 1503, describing "very big rats" believed to be the Noronhomys vespuccii.

Here is a Giant Rat very similar to the ones seen by Vespucci. Would you forget an island covered in these big boys, especially when they are known to be cannibals and sexually insatiable? ;-)

So what can be taken from all this? First, that Giant Rats are incredible and important. Second, that Vespucci was not trying usurp Christopher Columbus' glory. He was overdue for his own glory. Third, that Columbus has enough things named after him(District of Columbia, British Columbia, CBS). Fourth, that Columbus barely dabbled in South America, not getting past Venezuela, whereas Vespucci made it all the way to Patagonia... and since South America is a much more exotic continent, whoever finds that one should get to name the entire World.

And most importantly... if it was the United States of Columbia, it would be USC for short, and the Universities of South Carolina and Southern Cal would get way too cocky. And we know we don't need that.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

German Chocolate

Substitute teaching has been on a Trader Joe's imposed hiatus of late. But this hiatus came to an end this past Tuesday as Mr. K resurfaced in the city school system. These days it takes the most illustrious position possible to draw me out, and this particular position sounded pretty sweet to me: German teacher, 8-11 at a middle school, 3 hours off and then 2 hours at a high school. German is an elective, so kids should be little, benign, language sweethearts. Riiight?

The middle school classes were appetizing enough with only 7 students per class. However, the teacher I was subbing for floated from classroom to classroom for each period, the main downside of this being that there was another teacher in each of these classrooms while I was there, sitting at the desk writing lesson plans and denying me the power position. So instead I was forced to sit in a chair in the front of the class like a total numbskull!

In the second class the incumbent teacher thankfully disappeared and I was able to exert my will upon the students. The goal of these 7th graders was to work on their poster presentations about Berlin. I legally sent some students to the media center, while others did stuff on the computers in the back of the classroom. I say stuff because I have no clue what they were really doing, nor did I care.

This was mainly because I was quickly preoccupied with one special student. We'll call him Willy, both for anonymity and for the fact that I don't remember it. My attention was first drawn to Willy when he began pirouetting and yelping in front of the blackboard. When I asked him what the matter was, I got a sequence of "Where is our teacher?!" followed by "What is wrong with him?" "Why isn't he here?" All of these I responded to summarily: "I don't know. He'll be back. He's fine. It doesn't matter."

This seemed to assuage his concern, but instead of working on his project he sat at his desk in an altered state, staring off, foaming drool around his braces. Utterly out of my comfort zone now, I urged him to start working, to do anything that would allow me to leave him alone... but it quickly became evident that this was not to be.

So I asked him to teach me how to say a few phrases in German. "How are you?" "My name is ______" "I am great." That went by successfully, so I suggested we research Berlin on the computer. This elicited a deranged holler, a few body thrusts, and several smirks from the other students. All that came out of his mouth after his spasms was "German Chocolate!" followed by a sequence of bizarre questions about German chocolate... most of them wondering what the most common filling for German chocolate was. At this point I was more than willing to cultivate his passion for German knowledge, regardless of the subject, so I told him there was only one way to find out.

So we spent maybe 10 minutes researching German chocolate, culminating in the discovery of a German website selling the chocolates. At this point I took control of the mouse and put in an order for $3,500 dollars of caramel filled chocolates, adding them to my virtual shopping cart. Willy was following my every move and became very excited, thinking that an actual purchase had been made. I then told him that the chocolate would arrive in the next couple days to the classroom. Panic filled Willy's face then as he informed me that Mr. _______ would be very upset about this, and that he was going to get in lots of trouble for being affiliated with such a transaction. So I told them that I had just gotten word that the federal agents had prevented the chocolate from passing into the USA, and as the bell rang the chocolate thread ended.

After that class I made my way to the 6th grade exploratory German class. The lesson plan consisted of having them split into pairs and quiz each other on telling time. After ten minutes of that, we were supposed to play Fisch Mal, Go Fish, with big numbers. I joined one of the groups and I kicked their butt in the first game, came in 2nd the next game. My only mistake in this class occurred before it started when I went to write my name on the board... I grabbed a gigantic Vis-a-vis pen instead of a dry-erase pen, and scribed Mr. Kneidel in gigantic letters across the board. Permanent Vis-a-vis pen. Whoops. I guess they'll know who did it!

After a wonderful 3 hour lunch break I made my way to the high school. These German students were wholesome and alternative, but had apparently been permanently scarred by the substitute the day before. They told me that the previous substitute had not allowed them to speak any English and had forced them to practice German. How. Dare. He!!!! I sympathized completely.

First I wrote my name on the board. Then they mispronounced it. Then I shortened it to Mr K. Then they said, "shouldn't it be Mr. N if the K is silent?" I said yes. Mr. N it was.

Then I wrote the lesson plan on the board. Then we all laughed at it. Then I told one of them to close the curtain over the window on the door. Then I told them not to leave, not to scream, and that those were my two main rules. They then asked if they could use the youtube on my computer to watch Hannah Montana videos. I told them no, watch it on that kid's Itouch. So they did. I then started playing Lexulous on my computer and eat Smarties.

So all went smoothly. Some did schoolwork, some gossiped, some got on facebook, one pair broke up with each other, and all the while I thought, "Who am I to deny them?"